Category Archives: Agriculture

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, volcanoes, fuel, more


We begin with preparations from the Associated Press:

US looking past Ebola to prepare for next outbreak

The next Ebola or the next SARS. Maybe even the next HIV. Even before the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is brought under control, public health officials are girding for the next health disaster.

“It’s really urgent that we address the weak links and blind spots around the world,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press. “Ebola is a powerful reminder that a health threat anywhere can affect us.”

Ebola sprang from one of those blind spots, in an area that lacks the health systems needed to detect an outbreak before it becomes a crisis. Now the Obama administration has requested $600 million for the CDC to implement what it calls the Global Health Security Agenda, working with an international coalition to shore up disease detection in high-risk countries and guard against the next contagion.

And on to a European outbreak with TheLocal.dk:

Denmark closely eyeing German bird flu case

After a worrying new strain of bird flu was found in northern Germany not far from Denmark, Danish officials say they are watching the situation closely but have not raised national threat levels.

The German agriculture ministry said on Saturday that a goose with the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain was identified in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The ministry told AFP that it marked the first case of the virus outside of a farm setting in Europe.

German officials say they have asked regional authorities to keep an “active watch” on wild birds, which means killing animals suspected of having the virus and conducting screening tests.

And a Swiss alert from TheLocal.ch:

Switzerland bans Dutch poultry imports

Switzerland is banning chicken imports from Britain and the Netherlands after Dutch officials said they detected bird flu on three more farms.

The Swiss move, announced on Friday, came into effect on Saturday and applies to live chickens and chicks as well as eggs from the affected zones in the two countries, the Federal Office for Food Security and Veterinary Affairs said.

Belgium meanwhile ordered poultry owners to confine their birds as a precautionary measure following the outbreak in neighbouring Holland.

The Dutch economic affairs ministry confirmed that a second bird flu outbreak detected on Thursday on a farm at Ter Aar, close to the first case east of The Hague, was the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain, previously detected only in Asia.

From the Los Angeles Times, a seismically alarming development:

Earthquake early alert system ready to expand in California

Officials are planning the first major rollout of California’s earthquake early warning system next year, providing access to some schools, fire stations and more private companies.

The ambitious plan highlights the progress scientists have made in building out the system, which can give as much as a minute of warning before a major earthquake is felt in metropolitan areas.

Until now, only academics, select government agencies and a few private firms have received the alerts. But officials said they are building a new, robust central processing system and now have enough ground sensors in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas to widen access. They stressed the system is far from perfected but said expanded access will help determine how it works and identify problems.

From the Times, an example of how the system might work in esnl’s own back yard:

BLOG Quaker

From Science, chilling out, not eruptile dysfunction:

Thanks, volcanoes! Earth cooler than expected due to recent eruptions

Minor volcanic eruptions substantially slowed Earth’s warming between 2000 and 2013, a new study suggests. The small particles, or aerosols, were spewed high into the atmosphere and scattered sunlight back into space, preventing the global average temperature from rising from 0.05°C to 0.12°C. That cooling effect represents between 25% and 50% of the expected temperature rise during that period because of rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, the scientists say, so the finding helps explain the so-called hiatus in global warming over the last 15 years.

“This is an important paper,” says Brian Toon, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The team’s results “help us understand why Earth didn’t warm as much as expected by climate models in the past decade or so.”

Scientists have long known of the cooling effect of major volcanic eruptions, which spew large amounts of light-scattering aerosols into the stratosphere. The Philippines’ Mount Pinatubo, for example, cooled Earth by a few tenths of a degree Celsius for months after it blew its top in June 1991. But the chilling effect of minor eruptions has been hotly debated, says David Ridley, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. That’s because scientists have presumed that most of the aerosols from minor eruptions do not rise beyond the troposphere, the layer of Earth’s atmosphere where weather occurs and where natural processes quickly clear particles from the atmosphere.

Making this, on balance, a positive development? From Reuters:

Cape Verde orders evacuation after Fogo volcano erupts

A volcano in the Cape Verde archipelago off the coast of West Africa erupted on Sunday morning, the prime minister said, calling for residents to evacuate.

A photograph posted on the local RTC TV station website showed a huge plume of smoke rising into the sky, visible from the capital Praia on a neighbouring island.

“Things could deteriorate in the coming moments, in the coming hours,” Jose Maria Neves in a statement on the government website.

“We’ve called on people to heed the authorities’ instructions. People should abandon Cha das Caldeiras,” he said referring to a hillside community.

And from Science, reporting from Norway on ominous portents:

Arctic faces an ice-pocalypse

Thick sheets of ice coating roads, homes, and pastures. Dead reindeer, no radio transmissions, and flights canceled for days. When ice came to this Arctic mining outpost on the Svalbard archipelago two winters ago, it crippled the community for weeks and devastated wildlife for months. Now, scientists are saying such weather extremes in the Arctic—known as rain-on-snow events—may become more frequent in the future.

“It’s hard to study extreme weather events, which by definition are rare,” says ecologist Brage Hansen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. “So we took the opportunity in 2012.”

Brage and his co-authors focused on the rainy warm spell that brought record-high temperatures and prolonged rain to Svalbard over 2 weeks in January and February 2012. Temperatures during that period were routinely 20°C higher than normal, and on one day, the study notes, a Svalbard weather station recorded a daily average temperature of 4°C, which was “higher than at any weather station in mainland Norway on that day.” Another Svalbard station recorded 272 mm of rain during the 2 weeks; that station’s average for the whole year is 385 mm.

And from the Los Angeles Times, adapting to drought in Wine Country:

Drought revives ‘forgotten art’ at wineries: Farming without irrigation

Everyone used to dry farm wine grapes until the late 1970s, when irrigation was introduced. Dry farmed wines put California on the global map by winning a seminal blind tasting test in 1976 called the “Judgment of Paris.”

Today, only a handful of producers continue the tradition — and only where there’s just enough rain. Adherents are discovering revived interest in the practice now that California’s $23-billion wine industry is facing an emerging water crisis of historic proportions.

“It’s like a forgotten art,” said Frank Leeds, head of vineyard operations for Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford, a leading dry farm and organic wine producer in Napa Valley. “There’s very few guys that dry farm and less guys that actively dry farm. It’s easier, I’m sure, to turn on the tap.”

Leeds estimates that up to 85% of Napa Valley has enough rain to practice dry farming. But it’s hardly an option in Temecula, or in the largely bone-dry San Joaquin Valley, which produces more than 70% of the state’s wine.

Another drought impact from the Contra Costa Times:

EBMUD looking at rate hike if there’s no rain

Saying it is “at risk of running out of water” without a rainy season, the East Bay’s largest water provider is looking to hike rates by 14 percent next month to pay for an emergency supply — and may consider boosting the surcharge to 20 or 25 percent in the spring.

Unless it rains and snows a lot soon, East Bay Municipal Utility District managers say the surcharge will be necessary to buy, pump and treat the emergency water from Freeport a few miles south of Sacramento.

The higher charges would go into effect on or around Jan. 2 for the district’s 1.3 million customers in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. The surcharge will be considered on Dec. 9 at EBMUD headquarters in Oakland.

From Want China Times, the high cost of development:

Coal killed 670,000 in China in 2012: report

Coal was the major contributor to the death of 670,000 people and 535.2 billion yuan (US$87 million) in economic losses in China in 2012, according to a report cited in Shanghai-based outlet the Paper.

The results were gleaned from a government research project on coal consumption control and policy that was carried out by Pan Xiaochuan, a professor at Peking University’s School of Public Health in Beijing, and 22 Chinese national and environmental government agencies since October 2013.

Electricity and heat-producing industries, boilers, non-metal mineral processing and ferrous smelting emitted 21 million tons of sulfur dioxide, 23 million tons of nitrogen oxide and 12 tons of smog, powder and dust in China in 2012, which formed the bulk of the country’s pollutants. The PM2.5 particles produced by coal processing amounted to 61% of the pollutants.

The PM2.5 particles are the real killers, according to previous studies of Pan. The professor found that 670,000 people died of diseases related to the fine particles, of which 350,000 died of coronary atherosclerotic heart disease, 170,000 were killed by stroke, 84,000 by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 65,000 by lung cancer. The majority of deaths occurred in provinces and regions where the coal industry is most heavily concentrated.

Occupational diseases within the coal industry numbered 116,000 between 2008 and 2012. More than 94,000, or 82%, suffered from coalminer’s pneumoconiosis.

Economic losses from mining amounted to 2.2 billion yuan (US$359 million) directly and 3.3 billion yuan (US$538 million) indirectly.

Coal consideration in Germany from TheLocal.de:

Germany debates scrapping coal power

After deciding to scrap nuclear power, Germany is pondering saying goodbye to coal, its biggest energy source but also its top polluter and main threat to ambitious climate goals.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is split on the issue, which pits a vocal environmental movement against energy giants and coal mining regions, with only weeks until her cabinet is set to present its next climate action plan.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks has said that if Europe’s biggest economy doesn’t reduce coal use, it has no chance of meeting its 2020 target of cutting Earth-warming carbon emissions by 40 percent from three decades earlier.

After the jump, more environmental woes in China, another British fracking controversy, Shell’s Nigerian oil spill lies exposed, on to Fukushimapocalpyse Now! with a nuclear life extension deliberation and a consolidation of political power, the latest on containment in Chernobyl, and a possible end to a Darwinian legacy. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Caution, false alarms, politics. . .


A slow news day, so straight ahead we go, first with an assessment from USA Today:

War against Ebola in West Africa remains a tough fight

A snapshot of the Ebola epidemic raging across West Africa shows a wildfire of infections only slightly contained.

While cases have been on the decline in Liberia, the outbreak is worsening in neighboring countries, where basic Ebola-fighting tools are impractical.

Identifying the infected and those they’ve touched, and isolating them to break the transmission chain are all but impossible in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown as well as the jungles of Guinea, says Jordan Tappero, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s second-in-command for the regional response.

The new surge of Ebola in Sierra Leone follows a devastating one in Monrovia two months ago. Such a furious spread is something disease trackers say they’ve never seen in the 38 years since the virus was first identified.

The latest domestic false alarm from ABC News:

2 Children Test Negative for Ebola in Ohio

Two young children who were admitted to an Ohio hospital today after they developed fevers following a trip to West Africa have tested negative for Ebola, health officials said.

Two sisters, ages 4 and 6, were taken to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus early this morning after they showed signs of a fever, Jose Rodriguez, director of public affairs and communications for the Columbus Public Health Department, said today.

Instead, the girls tested positive for Influenza A, Rodriguez said.

Before the test results came back, the two were kept in isolation and received supportive care, Jose Rodriguez, director of public affairs and communications for the Columbus Public Health Department, said today.

From KNOE News in Monroe, Louisiana, an interesting development:

CDC sends out Ebola guidelines to funeral homes

  • The Centers for Disease Control has issued guidelines to U.S. funeral homes on how to handle the remains of Ebola patients.

Mulhearn Funeral Home in Monroe confirms they’ve gotten a three-page list of recommendations from the CDC. Among the guidelines, funeral workers are instructed to wear protective gear when handling the remains, since Ebola can be transmitted postmortem. Funeral homes are also told to avoid autopsies and embalming.

According to the Associated Press, Governor Bobby Jindal is urging the Obama Administration to block flights coming into the United States from Ebola-stricken countries.

Friday, Jindal said, “Even countries in Africa have cut back on or stopped accepting flights from countries with Ebola outbreaks.”

Kyodo News cover Asian agreement:

Japan, China, S. Korea agree on Ebola cooperation

The health ministers of Japan, China and South Korea said Sunday they will collaborate closely in preventing Ebola and other deadly diseases from entering their borders.

The trilateral meeting was held in Beijing at a time of tentative signs of a slight improvement in Japan’s relations with China and South Korea, which have been severely strained over territorial and wartime issues.

Despite Japan’s political difficulties with its two neighboring countries, the health ministers agreed to boost countermeasures for the Ebola outbreak and other types of diseases, including pandemic influenza.

On to Liberia and a sad development from FrontPageAfrica:

Infighting in Response Efforts as GoL Unveils Ebola Spending

Though the deadly Ebola outbreak continues to see improvement for several weeks now, the response seems to be marred by poor coordination and infighting between officials at the Ministry of health, donors and agencies helping with the response.

Minutes from the Incident Management Meeting obtained by FrontPageAfrica suggest that there are no data on the quality of contact tracing because the government is not doing it properly and people are going back to treating people in their homes.

Experts believe the government is not taking the issue of contact tracing seriously as it should be doing. Richard Ragan of the United Nations Emergency Ebola Response UNMEER, says: “You always report on suspect cases, but tracking the suspect cases from day to day – what percentage of the suspect cases become actual cases?”

The World Health Organization during the meeting responded to the question, saying: “Give me a functioning database, and I could tell you – but right now, I can’t answer that. There are very important quality improvement activities needed.”

From the African Union, a welcome:

African Union Welcomes Plans by the People’s Republic of China to Build a Hospital in Liberia

AU Commission Chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has welcomed the announcement by the People’s Republic of China that it will build a 100-bed medical centre in Liberia.

This will add to the Ebola treatment infrastructure already being put in place by the USA, France, the United Kingdom and other donor countries in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, addressing the much needed bed-shortage identified as a key constraint in halting and reversing the trajectory of the epidemic.

This latest announcement follows other contributions made by the People’s Republic of China to the Ebola efforts in Africa, including donating medical equipment and personal protective equipment (PPEs), the deployment of Chinese medical personnel and aid personnel, providing food assistance and financial donations to the three affected countries. This is in addition to the financial contribution of USD$2 million China has already made to AU Support to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa mission (ASEOWA) and other support given to the World Health Organisation and to the UNMEER.

Finally, from Agence France-Presse, agricultural woes:

Ebola-hit Sierra Leone’s late cocoa leaves bitter taste

Program notes:

The arable district of Kenema in Sierra Leone — at the centre of the Ebola outbreak in May — has been under quarantine for three months as the cocoa harvest comes in.

EnviroWatch: Health, pollution, nukes, & more


We begin with sins of the past, via the Guardian:

Thalidomide: how men who blighted lives of thousands evaded justice

  • Newly exposed files show how victims were betrayed by political interference in trial – and how the pill has remained on sale

What should have happened for justice to prevail was for the government to support the families while the criminal court tracked liability for an enormous crime. That was demanded by the West German Social Democratic party in opposition in 1962, but they forgot about it in government.

Instead, while the witnesses testified and endured cross-examination in noisy, angry scenes in the courthouse, the real action was elsewhere. The large number of private documents newly discovered in German state archives by the researcher for the UK Thalidomide Trust speak to government interference in the judicial proceedings.

On July 21, 1969, the documents show, Grünenthal directors and their lawyers met in secret with the federal health ministry. The principal defendant in the criminal trial had been excused attendance in court for health reasons, but he was there at this and other meetings: Grünenthal’s founder, Hermann Wirtz, a 71-year-old father of five, a member of a devout Catholic family socially prominent as philanthropists in Aachen. No victims or their representatives were present, nor were they advised of the meeting.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, barfing aboard:

Norovirus sickens 172 on Pacific cruise ship

More than 170 passengers and crew on a US cruise ship in the Pacific have contracted Norovirus, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Sunday (Nov 16).

The highly-contagious stomach virus infected 158 of 3,009 passengers and 14 of 1,160 crewmembers, the CDC said in an investigation report.

This is the second time Princess Cruises “Crown Princess” has had an outbreak of Norovirus this year. More than 150 passengers caught the virus during a cruise in April.

TheLocal.dk covers an outbreak of a drug-resistant menace:

Second Danish death attributed to MRSA

A second person has died in Denmark from swine MRSA, the latest report from the Danish State Serum Institute (SSI) has revealed.

According to SSI’s third quarter report, a patient was hospitalised with a hardening of the arteries and underwent several procedures before dying within 30 days of being infected with MRSA CC398, a variant that can be transmitted from livestock to humans.

“There were three new incidences [of MRSA] in the third quarter, one of which ended in death. Throughout all of 2014 there have been six cases of toxaemia in total, two of which ended in death with 30 days,” SSI spokesman Robert Skov told DR.

Two leading experts said in August that between 6,000 and 12,000 people are currently infected with MRSA CC398 in Denmark. It has also been found that at least 13 babies whose parents work in the swine industry have been infected with MRSA.

From the New York Times, a dangerous complication:

Rare Vaccine-Derived Polio Discovered in 2 Countries

Cases of paralysis caused by mutating polio vaccine have been found in South Sudan and Madagascar, the World Health Organization said Friday. New rounds of vaccination will be conducted in December in both areas. The two paralysis cases in South Sudan were in a displaced-persons camp where revaccination is relatively easy, the W.H.O. said, while testing suggests that the one case in Madagascar did not spread far. “Vaccine-derived polio paralysis” is a rare but small risk inherent in oral vaccine, so the polio eradication campaign is trying to introduce injectable vaccine wherever it is safe and practical. The injectable vaccine contains a “killed” virus that cannot mutate. But it provides less protection than the live, weakened virus in oral vaccine, is more expensive and is much harder to give. Only 279 cases of polio have been detected in the world this year, almost all of them in Pakistan or in Pakistani families in Afghanistan.

And the Los Angeles Times ponders another public health woe:

As Ebola scare dies down in U.S., infectious disease preparations wane

Hospitals seek a balance between preparation and overreaction when planning for the possibility of an outbreak of a deadly virus like Ebola, the spread of a pandemic flu or the emergence of another little-known infectious disease, according to hospital and healthcare officials.

In an era of high costs, constrained budgets and tight profit margins, many hospitals struggle to determine what resources they can spare to prepare for an epidemic that may never come.

“You have to walk that fine line between an event happening and not saying the sky is falling all the time,” said Dr. Katie Passaretti, head of infection prevention at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C. Her hospital helped isolate and test one of the first suspected Ebola cases in the country in July.

From Reuters, another outbreak:

EU Commission to adopt urgent measures to contain Dutch bird flu outbreak

The European Commission will on Monday likely adopt urgent interim protective measures to contain an outbreak of a highly contagious strain of bird flu in the Netherlands, it said on Sunday.

“The Commission is expected to adopt tomorrow, Monday 17 November, a decision with urgent interim protective measures in relation to this outbreak,” said Ricardo Cardoso, spokesman for the Commission.

The decision will describe the zones established by the Dutch authorities around the infected poultry farm where it will be forbidden to sell live poultry, eggs, poultry meat and other poultry products to other European Union member states and third countries.

Modern Farmer covers consequences of killing insects with neurotoxins:

Landmark 20-Year Study Finds Pesticides Linked to Depression In Farmers

A landmark study indicates that seven pesticides, some widely used, may be causing clinical depression in farmers. Will the government step in and start regulating these chemical tools?

Earlier this fall, researchers from the National Institute of Health finished up a landmark 20-year study, a study that hasn’t received the amount of coverage it deserves. About 84,000 farmers and spouses of farmers were interviewed since the mid-1990s to investigate the connection between pesticides and depression, a connection that had been suggested through anecdotal evidence for far longer. We called up Dr. Freya Kamel, the lead researcher on the study, to find out what the team learned and what it all means. Spoiler: nothing good.

“There had been scattered reports in the literature that pesticides were associated with depression,” says Kamel. “We wanted to do a new study because we had more detailed data than most people have access to.” That excessive amount of data includes tens of thousands of farmers, with specific information about which pesticides they were using and whether they had sought treatment for a variety of health problems, from pesticide poisoning to depression. Farmers were surveyed multiple times throughout the 20-year period, which gives the researchers an insight into their health over time that no other study has.

There’s a significant correlation between pesticide use and depression, that much is very clear, but not all pesticides. The two types that Kamel says reliably moved the needle on depression are organochlorine insecticides and fumigants, which increase the farmer’s risk of depression by a whopping 90% and 80%, respectively. The study lays out the seven specific pesticides, falling generally into one of those two categories, that demonstrated a categorically reliable correlation to increased risk of depression.

These types aren’t necessarily uncommon, either; one, called malathion, was used by 67% of the tens of thousands of farmers surveyed. Malathion is banned in Europe, for what that’s worth.

A more lethal encounter with pesticide chemicals in La Porte, Texas, from KHOU-TV in Houston:

4 workers killed in DuPont chemical leak

  • Company officials said a valve somehow failed on a container of methyl mercaptan, a chemical used to make insecticide

Four DuPont workers are dead and another is in the hospital following a chemical leak at its facility here Saturday morning.

DuPont company spokesman Aaron Woods said a valve somehow failed on a container of methyl mercaptan, a chemical used to make insecticide, around 4 a.m. Officials are still investigating why the valve failed.

Workers were able to get it under control by around 6 a.m. At that point, five workers had already been exposed to the gas, four of whom died inside the unit. The fifth was transported and is recovering in an area hospital.

Complications from another Big Ag chemical addiction from PBS NewsHour:

Increased immunity in weeds may threaten U.S. crops

Program notes:

On Saturday, NewsHour Weekend traveled to Iowa to explore the widespread issue of herbicide-resistant and hard-to-control weeds.

Millions of acres of farmland have been affected, rendering some fields unable to be farmed.The EPA recently approved a new Dow herbicide that the industry says could help the problem. Opponents have sued claiming it could possibly harm the environment and human health.

From StarAfrica, a report of a growing number accounting for 3.4 percent of the population in a country with a total population of 174 million:

Six million Nigerians living with diabetes – official

No fewer than six million Nigerians are living with diabetes and the number could increase because of predisposing factors in the country, Mr Peter Ujomu, Executive Director, Health Matters Inc, said in a statement in Abuja on Sunday.Ujomu’s statement issued on the sidelines of activities to mark the 2014 World Diabetes Day (WDD), said, “Like every other statistics in Nigeria, there is always controversy about the number but right now, we believe about six million people are living with diabetes in this country.”

Some of the factors are the kind of foods consumed, culture, lifestyle and other things, he added.

“These are all signposts of an imminent danger in the increase of the number of people living with diabetes” Ujoma pointed out.

And an unusual tale from the Guardian:

The new strain of cannabis that could help treat psychosis

Although widely seen as a potential trigger for schizophrenia, marijuana also contains an ingredient that appears to have antipsychotic effects. Tom Ireland visits the UK’s only licensed cannabis farm and meets the man responsible for breeding a plant that might be of benefit to millions

In high doses, THC can induce temporary schizophrenia-like psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, delusions, anxiety and hallucinations. Yet cannabis also contains a cannabinoid known as CBD (or cannabidiol), which appears to have almost the exact opposite effect.

Purified CBD has been shown to have antipsychotic and anti-anxiety effects, and can lessen the psychotic symptoms normally experienced by people given high doses of THC. Research by University College London also suggests that people who smoke cannabis rich in CBD are less likely to experience “schizophrenia-like symptoms” than those who smoke cannabis containing only THC.

Unfortunately for the mental health of many young cannabis users, the chemical profile of the drug has changed drastically over the past three decades. Not only does modern cannabis contain more than twice as much THC as it did in the 1960s, it also now contains hardly any of the “neuroprotective” cannabinoid CBD.

A global-warming-enabled aquatic pest proliferation from the Daily Climate:

‘Explosion’ of gill lice besets Wisconsin’s beloved fish

  • As streams warm, a gruesome parasite is gaining the upper hand against Wisconsin’s iconic brook trout – and anglers bemoan the loss

Creepy critters are leaching onto the gills of Wisconsin’s brook trout and choking off their oxygen, stoking fears in anglers that the iconic fish may be on the outs in many streams.

Biologists fear warming waters may be behind the parasites’ recent surge, further hampering a cold-water fish already beset by a host of environmental changes.

“I would say it looks like little minute rice attached to their gills,” said Len Harris, a law enforcement retiree and outdoor writer who has been fishing Wisconsin streams for about 50 years. “

Gill lice aren’t aquatic versions of head lice, the bane of any elementary school teacher. They’re tiny crustaceans that attach to trout and char gills. They make breathing difficult, impede development and can slow sexual maturation – none of which is good news for fish. Worse, warmer water appears to give gill lice a boost. For the state’s only native trout, the brook trout, evidence points to yet another climate change concern.

The Contra Costa Times covers an amphibian action:

Oakland Zoo joins mission to raise and save endangered frog

In a quest to save an endangered California mountain frog from extinction, the Oakland Zoo is seeking to build a tougher tadpole.

Zoo staffers, borrowing a strategy that worked with the California condor, are caring for 26 adult Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs and 18 tadpoles captured in Alpine lakes and streams where fungus and planted fish have devastated the frog population.

The goal: to rear tougher tadpoles with stronger immunities so they can return to their home waters.

After the jump, a fish in decline to feed a Japanese hunger, Spanish boats ram Greenpeace activists, global-warming-enabled terrestrial gas-passing, an Aussie climate change retreat, Japan ups its climate fund ante, an ancient African tribe’s lands sold out from under them for a oil sheikhdom’s private royal hunting preserve, testing for a China Syndrome event in Japan?, the high costs of global decommissioning, and those 80 million bacteria swapped in the tongue tango. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Warnings, food, and more politics


A shorter edition today, and not for lack of seeking.

We begin with the only Ebola patient in the U.S., via the Los Angeles Times:

Nebraska hospital officials: Ebola doctor still ‘extremely critical’

A surgeon who was transported to the U.S. for treatment after contracting Ebola in Sierra Leone was still in “extremely critical” condition Sunday, according to a Nebraska Medical Center spokesman.

No further details were immediately available on the patient, identified by the Church of the United Brethren in Christ as Dr. Martin Salia, 44.

Salia is a member of the church and was working as a surgeon at Kissy United Methodist Hospital in Freetown. He is a citizen of Sierra Leone and has family in the U.S., according to a church spokesman.

A presidential plea from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Obama to world on Ebola: We can’t build a moat around our countries

President Barack Obama and leaders of the world’s largest economies urged governments across the globe Saturday to swiftly send money, healthcare workers and equipment to combat the deadly Ebola outbreak in the West Africa.

“We invite those governments that have yet to do so to join in providing financial contributions, appropriately qualified and trained medical teams and personnel, medical and protective equipment, and medicines and treatments,” the G-20 countries urged in a statement issued Saturday.

Some nations have contributed. But international health experts have warned that the response remains dangerously inadequate to meet the needs in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

And from CCTV America, an emerging critical complication:

Food price increases in Ebola affected countries

Program notes:

Food prices are soaring in countries affected by the Ebola outbreak. The U.N. has warned of food shortages. CCTV America’s Nina deVries reports from Sierra Leone on how people are coping.

The Associated Press covers the latest outbreak:

Mali on high alert with new Ebola cluster

For nearly a year, Mali had been spared the virus now blamed for killing more than 5,000 people across West Africa despite the fact the country shared a porous land border with Guinea, the country where the epidemic first erupted.

Now there are least three confirmed Ebola deaths, and two others suspected deaths in Mali’s capital, Bamako. Residents here who have seen the horrific death tolls from Ebola in neighboring Guinea now fear the worst.

“I feel uneasy because I have the impression that our authorities are not giving us the whole truth,” said Ibrahim Traore, who works at a supermarket in the capital. “There are a lot of things not being said about how the Ebola virus came to Bamako.”

Health officials now must try to track down not only family and friends who visited the 70-year-old man at his hospital bed, but also the scores of people who prepared his body for burial and attended his funeral. Teams of investigators are also headed to the border community where authorities believe the Patient Zero in the Bamako cluster — the 70-year-old man — first fell ill.

From the Associated Press, a consequence:

US to screen travelers from Mali for Ebola

Travelers from Mali will be subject to the same screening and monitoring that was ordered for people arriving from three other Ebola-affected countries, U.S. health officials said Sunday.

Mali is not suffering widespread Ebola illnesses. But federal officials are growing increasingly worried about a new cluster of seven illnesses in Mali that have left health public health workers scrambling to track and monitor at least 450 other people who may have had contact with the seven people and may be at risk.

“At this point we can’t be confident that every exposed person has been identified, or that every identified person is being monitored daily,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A parallel action from AllAfrica:

Mali: France to Screen Arrivals for Ebola

France has extended its Ebola airport screening procedures to cover passengers flying into Paris from Mali after the west African country confirmed its second case of the deadly virus.

“As part of the fight against Ebola and because of the evolution of the epidemiological situation, the control and monitoring will be extended to cover passenger flights from Bamako [Mali] from Saturday 15 November 2014,” a health ministry statement said.

Passengers flying into Paris’s Charles de Gaulle and Orly international airports will have their temperatures taken and will be given information on what to do in the case of a fever running higher than 38°C within 21 days.

Punch Nigeria raises the anxiety level in a stricken country just freed of its own outbreak:

Health minister raises fear over Ebola resurgence

The Health Minister, Dr. Haliru Alhassan, has raised the fear over resurgence of Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria.

Expressing worry over the nationwide strike embarked upon by the Joint Health Staff Union, the minister said Nigeria was not free from Ebola as long as there were reported cases of the deadly virus in any part of the world.

Alhassan, who appealed to all concerned to support the leadership role of President Goodluck Jonathan in tackling the deadly disease, said the indefinite strike embarked upon by JOHESU, at a time when many Nigerians would return home from abroad to celebrate Christmas and New Year, could threaten the success achieved.

And a move that might seem contradictory, via StarAfrica:

Nigeria’s Rivers State donates Ebola protective equipment to ECOWAS

Nigeria’s Rivers State Government in south-eastern Nigeria has announced the donation of 5,000 complete set of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to ECOWAS in support of Member States affected by the outbreak that has claimed more than 5,000 lives from the more than 13,000 reported cases, mainly in the region.Rivers and Lagos States reported Ebola cases in July to September but along with support from the Federal Government and development partners successfully fought the scourge, resulting in Nigeria being declared free of the disease by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 20th October 2014.

A statement by the ECOWAS Commission on Sunday in Abuja said that the Rivers State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Sampson Parker, who announced the PPEs donation on behalf of State Governor Chibuike Amaechi, to ECOWAS delegation in Port Harcourt on Friday, disclosed that the state was contributing 100 volunteer health workers to the pool of 500 pledged by Nigeria to assist ECOWAS countries affected by Ebola.

Lagos State is also contributing more than 200 of the Nigerian volunteers due to travel to their respective countries of assignment.

On to Liberia and a political move from the Associated Press:

Liberia health minister ousted in Cabinet shuffle

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Sunday replaced her health minister as part of a broader Cabinet reshuffle amid widespread criticism of her government’s response to the country’s Ebola outbreak.

In a statement read on state radio, Sirleaf said Health Minister Walter Gwenigale would be replaced by George Warner, formerly head of the civil service.

“Dr. Gwenigale, who continues to have my full confidence, will continue to serve as adviser in the Ministry of Health and will continue to work with me on the presidential advisory Ebola committee until his planned retirement in February,” Sirleaf said.

A deadline set, via Reuters:

Liberia sets national target of no new Ebola cases by Dec. 25

Liberia has set a national goal of having no new cases of Ebola by Dec. 25, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in a radio address on Sunday, in a further sign that authorities believe they are getting on top of the virus.

Liberia is the nation hardest hit by the epidemic. At least 2,812 people have died in the West African country, out of a total of 5,165 victims in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data on Friday.

“We continue to combat the Ebola virus and strive to achieve our national objective of zero new cases by Christmas,” Sirleaf said in an address that also announced a cabinet reshuffle.

And from the the NewDawn, allegations of a missing $12,000 [U.S. dollars, with the Liberian dollar worth slightly more than a penny]:

11 Million Ebola money missing

Several health workers in Nimba County have threatened to take the county’s health team to court over an 11 Million Liberian Dollars saga. The aggrieved health workers told The NewDawn correspondent in Nimba that their position is based on the lack of transparency by the county health team in handling the money reportedly sent to the county by the Government of Liberia.

The head for the Nimba County health workers association, Tilekpeh Weh-Johnson, said out of the amount in question, officers-in-charge or senior officers of health facilities in the county are to receive 40,000 Liberian Dollars each, but this has not been done.

Mr. Weh-Johnson said the situation has created a bad working relationship between health workers in Nimba and the county health team.  When contracted, the head for the Nimba County health team, Dr. Collins Bowah, said that the money saga is being discussed on community radio stations in the county, but refused to confirm the actual amount involved.

EnviroWatch: Health, climate, fuel, nukes


From RT, new hope for people like Ted Kennedy and our own mother who died of brain cancer:

Cannabis combined with radiotherapy can make brain cancer ‘disappear,’ study claims

Two cannabis components can have a significant effect on the size of cancerous tumors in the brain, especially when combined with radiotherapy, according to new research. The study says the growths can virtually “disappear.”

The research was carried out by specialists at St Georges, University of London and published in the Molecular Cancer Therapeutics journal.

There are some 85 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, but the two that had a demonstrably positive effect were tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Combining their use alongside radiotherapy shows a drastic effect, the study claims.

And a possible source of the medication from the Guardian:

Can Zambia save its environment with marijuana?

  • Green party’s presidential candidate Peter Sinkamba is promising voters to cut country’s dependency on mining – by growing and exporting marijuana

For decades, Zambia has staked its economic fortunes on copper mining. But when voters in this southern African nation go to the polls in January to select a new president, at least one candidate will be looking to send that tradition up in smoke.

On Friday, Peter Sinkamba will announce his candidacy on the Green party ticket to replace the late President Michael Sata, who died on 29 October from an undisclosed illness. Sinkamba, regarded as Zambia’s leading environmentalist for his battles against the country’s big copper mines, is running on an unlikely platform, especially in this socially conservative nation: legalising marijuana.

His plan, first announced in April, calls for cannabis’ legalisation for medicinal use in Zambia, which would be a first in Africa. The surplus crop would be exported abroad, earning Zambia what Sinkamba claims could be billions of dollars.

A serious cause for concern from BBC News:

Warning over plastics used in treating premature babies

US researchers have warned that premature babies are being exposed to high levels of a potentially dangerous chemical in plastics.

A study suggested babies may be exposed to high levels of a phthalate called DEHP in medical equipment. Some US healthcare providers have banned the use of DEHP, and other products were available, the researchers said.

The UK is currently re-evaluating its position on phthalate use in devices. Evidence on the safety of phthalates in humans has been inconclusive, but European regulators have classified DEHP as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

Tragedy on the Subcontinent from the New York Times:

India Sterilization Deaths Linked to Pills Tainted With Rat Poison, Officials Say

The women who died after sterilization surgery in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh might have been given antibiotic pills contaminated with rat poison, a senior official said on Friday.

Sonmoni Borah, the divisional commissioner in the district of Bilaspur, in Chhattisgarh, said that tablets of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin that were seized in police raids of Mahawar Pharma, a small company supplying medicines to the state government, were found to contain the chemical zinc phosphide.

“If you do a quick Google search, you will find it is rat poison, and the women were displaying symptoms similar to poisoning,” Mr. Borah said in a telephone interview. State officials issued an urgent warning on Friday to practitioners across the state, telling them to stop distributing or using ciprofloxacin “with immediate effect,” he said.

Another outbreak threatens, from MercoPress:

Fears of a new Chikungunya viral strain in Brazil with the coming of summer

The Chikungunya outbreak which continues to affect thousands of Caribbean residents since it first appeared in St. Martin last year has been relatively self-limiting in the United States, due to the fact that the current strain only spreads through the Aedes egypti mosquito vector, which is uncommon on the US Eastern seaboard.

But recent diagnoses of a new viral strain in Brazil may turn the current hemispheric spread of the crippling disease on its head. The strain – which is prevalent in some African states and which has been the cause of several outbreaks in South-east Asian countries – readily infects the Aedes albopictus mosquito, a hardier species which is common along the US East Coast, and which is adapted to colder climates.

Brazil has recorded over 200 cases of Chikungunya – predominantly in the country’s east-coast Bahia state – but according to Kansas State University virologist Stephen Higgs, the African strain in Brazil has not yet developed the type of dangerous mutations observed in South-east Asia.

Such mutations could make the strain up to 100 times more infectious to mosquitoes, says Higgs, allowing the vectors to become more easily infected and pass the virus on to humans. The virus itself has been shown to develop rapid adaptive mutations, underscoring fears of eventual epidemic circulations of the new strain.

From Reuters, and closer to the U.S.:

Mexico detects first case of mosquito-borne chikungunya virus

Mexico has detected its first domestic case of the painful mosquito-borne viral disease chikungunya in the southwest of the country, the state government of Chiapas said on Saturday.

Chikungunya is spread by two mosquito species, and is typically not fatal. But it can cause debilitating symptoms including fever, headache and severe joint pain lasting months.

The government of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala, said an 8 year old girl became the first person to contract the disease in Mexico, and that she was treated in hospital in the town of Arriaga. The girl has since been released.

Polio-vaccine-pressured Pakistan, from the Express Tribune:

Travel restricted for Pakistanis without polio certificate, says IHC

In a meeting held by the International Health Committee, restrictions have been placed on Pakistani’s travelling abroad without a polio certificate, Express News reported Saturday.

The committee had declared Pakistan to be a nation responsible for spreading the polio virus across the globe.

Between July and now, three cases of polio have arisen in Afghanistan, for which the committee attributes blame to Pakistan.

In attempts to eradicate polio in six months, the International Health Committee have come down hard on Pakistan and ordered that no Pakistani could travel abroad without a polio certificate.

Infectious sausage, via BBC News:

One in 10 sausages ‘carries risk of hepatitis E virus’

One in 10 sausages and processed pork meat products in England and Wales could cause hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection if undercooked, experts warn.

There has been an “abrupt rise” in the number of cases in England and Wales as people do not realise the risk, scientists advising the government say. Sausages should be cooked for 20 minutes at 70C to kill the virus, they said.

Although serious cases are rare, HEV can cause liver damage or be fatal.

Wikidemiology, via the Los Angeles Times:

Scientists use Wikipedia search data to forecast spread of flu

Can public health experts tell that an infectious disease outbreak is imminent simply by looking at what people are searching for on Wikipedia? Yes, at least in some cases.

Researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory were able to make extremely accurate forecasts about the spread of dengue fever in Brazil and flu in the U.S., Japan, Poland and Thailand by examining three years’ worth of Wikipedia search data. They also came up with moderately success predictions of tuberculosis outbreaks in Thailand and China, and of dengue fever’s spread in Thailand.

However, their efforts to anticipate cases of cholera, Ebola, HIV and plague by extrapolating from search data left much to be desired, according to a report published Thursday in the journal PLOS Computational Biology. But the researchers believe their general approach could still work if they use more sophisticated statistics and a more inclusive data set.

Keystone pipelined, from BBC News:

Keystone XL pipeline approval passes House

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The legislation will now be put to a vote in the Senate next week, where its prospects are unclear.

The 875-mile (1,408km) pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the US state of Nebraska where it joins pipes running to Texas.

President Barack Obama is said to take a “dim view” of the legislation, but has not directly threatened a veto.

More from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Keystone pipeline good for Canada, not U.S., Obama says

As a pro-Keystone XL effort gathered bipartisan steam in Congress, President Barack Obama suggested that the controversial pipeline may be good for Canada but doesn’t offer much to Americans.

The Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed – by a 252-161 vote – a pro-Keystone XL bill intended to force Mr. Obama to approve the Canadian oil export project.

It was the ninth time the House of Representatives has passed a pro-Keystone XL measure. The Senate is expected to take up a similar bill next week.

More from the Christian Science Monitor:

Keystone XL pipeline: Obama says he ‘won’t budge’

A Keystone bill swept to easy approval in the House Friday, with 31 Democrats joining the Republican majority, and a parallel bill is scheduled for Senate action next week.

Mr. Obama saying he’ll act on immigration reform because Congress has failed to, while Congress is acting on Keystone to try to end what many lawmakers view as presidential obstructionism.

And now Obama is squaring off formally against fellow Democrats, as well as Republicans.

A Keystone bill swept to easy approval in the House Friday, with 31 Democrats joining the Republican majority, and a parallel bill is scheduled for Senate action next week, with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana as a lead sponsor. (Until now Senate majority leader Harry Reid has kept the issue off the Senate floor, in a bid to protect Democrats from a divisive vote.)

After jump, heads in sand in G20 climate protest as Obama shines a spotlight on Abbott and lobbyists battle over the Great Barrier Reef, one of climate change’s more striking effects, a legal battle over the humanity of chimps, then it’s on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with new questions over health risks, more radiation spikes, the new governor takes the tour, and a waste site decision delayed again, China mulls adding more new nuclear power plants, and an appetite for an Iranian nuclear deal. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Flu, fuels, pols, toxins, & nukes


And a whole lot more. . .

First, a microbial invasion, via the Japan Times:

Highly pathogenic bird flu virus detected in Shimane

A highly pathogenic strain of bird flu has been found in Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture, the Environment Ministry said Thursday.

The H5N8 subtype was detected from two samples of droppings of migratory Bewick’s swans that were collected on Nov. 3, the ministry said.

The ministry has designated 10 km from the spot in question as an intensive wild bird monitoring area and decided to send an emergency investigation team there.

The H5N8 subtype is the same virus strain as the bird flu that broke out at a poultry farm in Kumamoto Prefecture in April.

From BBC News, a watershed moment:

World is crossing malnutrition red line, report warns

Most countries in the world are facing a serious public health problem as a result of malnutrition, a report warns.

The Global Nutrition Report said every nation except China had crossed a “malnutrition red line”, suffering from too much or too little nutrition.

Globally, malnutrition led to “11% of GDP being squandered as a result of lives lost, less learning, less earning and days lost to illness,” it added.

And from ABC Australia, via Journeyman Pictures, a troublesome question:

Catalyst: Extreme Weather – How our climate is not just becoming warmer, but also increasingly extreme and unpredictable.

Program notes:

The world has undergone some frightening weather extremes in recent years: from scorching heat waves in Europe to apocalyptic floods in Australia and blizzards in the Middle East. Record temperatures, both high and low, are constantly being smashed across the world. At first glimpse, the emission of greenhouse gases may only seem to account for high temperatures. But as Anja Taylor discovers, warmer average temperatures are tampering with the mechanics that drive all kinds of weather events across the world. It seems like the term ‘global warming’ may be misleading, since mankind will need to face up to more frequent extreme and unpredictable weather in the future.

A fracking fatality, via the Los Angeles Times:

Fracking accident leaves 1 dead, 2 injured in Colorado

The rupture of a pipe at a Colorado fracking site left one Halliburton employee dead and two seriously injured Thursday morning, law enforcement and company officials said.

Workers were trying to warm a frozen pipe at a site near Fort Lupton, Colo., about 30 miles north of Denver, when it burst around 9:30 a.m., Sgt. Sean Stanridge, public information officer for the Weld County Sheriff’s Office, told the Los Angeles Times.

One person died at the scene and the injured were taken to area hospitals. One underwent surgery, and both are expected to survive, Stanridge said.

The industrial site is operated by Anadarko Petroleum Corp., and Halliburton employees are contracted to work on the grounds, Anadarko spokesman John Christiansen said.

Another fracking hazard from the Denver Post:

Fracking sand in oilfields stirs up a serious health risk for workers

Health concerns about oil field fracking have been focused on the mixed brew of chemicals injected into wells. But it is another innocuous-sounding substance — sand — that poses a more serious danger to workers.

Government overseers of workplace safety first highlighted the problem three years ago and issued a hazard alert a year later warning that high levels of fine quartz sand around fracking operations could lead to silicosis and other lung illnesses.

But efforts to update the 44-year-old exposure limits on sand dust are dragging on. Engineering solutions to the problem are still being researched. And, while many energy companies are taking steps to lessen the amount of what is referred to as “respirable crystalline silica” by scientists or “frac sand” by oilfield workers, the industry, with support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is also opposing much in proposed new regulations.

From EcoWatch, a fracking fail:

Fracking Support Plummets Among Americans

Fracking is quickly losing favor with Americans, a new Pew Research Center poll finds.

As more stories emerge about the dangers posed by the toxic fallout from the aggressive drilling process to communities near the operations, support for fracking tilts negative for the first time, with 41 percent favoring increased use of fracking and 47 percent opposing it. That’s a huge swing from 20 months ago. In Pew’s March 2013 poll 48 percent supported more fracking while only 38 percent opposed it.

Support for fracking has dropped most steeply among women and people under 50, whose opinions turned against it by 10 points, while shifting slightly against it among those over 50 by two points. Fifty-four percent of women now oppose fracking, with only 31 percent supporting it. Among men, 52 percent support it with 40 percent opposed, representing a three-point drop from March 2013. People 18-29 moved from 49/41 in support to 53/39 against, while those 30-49 who formerly favored it 48/41 now oppose it 50/38.

Tar sands heat up, via BBC News:

Keystone XL pipeline to get vote in Congress

The House of Representatives is set to vote on a bill to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. The move comes as Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu has pushed for a similar vote in the Senate as she fights a runoff campaign for her seat.

The 875-mile (1,408km) pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the US state of Nebraska where it joins pipes running to Texas.

President Barack Obama could find the approved bill on his desk next week. The White House has not directly threatened a veto of the legislation if it passes both chambers.

More from Reuters:

Keystone bill unlikely to rescue Landrieu in U.S. Senate runoff

A push by U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu to pass a bill authorizing the contentious Keystone XL pipeline is unlikely to give the Louisiana Democrat a significant boost against her Republican challenger in a December runoff, political analysts said on Thursday.

Landrieu, who faces an uphill battle to win a fourth term against Republican congressman Bill Cassidy, is renewing efforts to pass the measure unpopular with many Democrats as she fights to retain her seat in a state increasingly inhospitable to her party.

“It’s really too little, too late,” said G. Pearson Cross, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette political scientist. “Doing this only when her job is in peril will be seen as not significant – or desperate.”

Still more from The Hill:

Senate nears 60 on Keystone

Supporters of the Keystone XL oil pipeline are nearing 60 votes in the Senate ahead of a vote next week on whether to approve the project.

With passage of a pipeline bill in the House all but assured, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) says she is “confident” she can rally the 60 votes needed for a filibuster-proof majority in the upper chamber.

“It is ready for a vote and we have the 60 votes to pass it,” Landrieu said on Wednesday.

From RT, costly ignorance:

Shell ignored ‘risk & hazard’ of Nigeria pipes, downplayed size of 2008 spills – court documents

Royal Dutch Shell was aware that its Nigerian pipelines were poorly maintained prior to the 2008 Bodo oil spills, and later underestimated the size of the leaks to avoid paying compensation, Amnesty International reported after studying court documents.

Fifteen-thousand members of the Bodo community are suing Shell in London’s High Court, claiming the two oil spills in 2008 devastated an area of up to 90km in Ogoniland, southern Nigeria. The oil giant earned $450 billion in revenues last year.

“The result was an environmental catastrophe for the Bodo Community and the biggest loss of mangrove habitat in the history of oil spills. The 40,000 residents of the Bodo Community primarily relied on fishing and their way of life and source of livelihoods has been destroyed for years to come,” said Martyn Day, a senior partner at Leigh Day, which is representing the plaintiffs.

Among the documents obtained by Amnesty from the ongoing case is an internal note written by an employee eight years before the spills, which says “the remaining life of most of the Oil Trunklines [in the area] is more or less non-existent or short, while some sections contain major risk and hazard.”

From BuzzFeed, another fuel, another court:

CEO In Charge Of West Viriginia Mine That Killed 29 People Could Get 31 Years In Prison

Don Blankenship is facing conspiracy charges for his role in the worst U.S. mining disaster in 40 years.

In 2010, a mine in West Virginia exploded, killing 29 people. Now, the boss of the company in charge of the mine is facing criminal charges and up to 31 years in prison.

Don Blankenship was the chairman and CEO of Massey Energy Company in April 2010, when an explosion tore through Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. The mine included a maze of passageways more than 1,000 feet underground, and none of the miners who were inside at the time survived. The death toll ultimately climbed to 29, making the explosion the worst mining disaster in 40 years.

Investigations traced the source of the explosion to worn out cutting gear that created a spark and ignited coal dust and methane.

And from Yale Environment 360, black lung returns:

A Scourge for Coal Miners Stages a Brutal Comeback

Black lung — a debilitating disease caused by inhaling coal dust — was supposed to be wiped out by a landmark 1969 U.S. mine safety law. But a recent study shows that the worst form of the disease now affects a larger share of Appalachian coal miners than at any time since the early 1970s.

Experts at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported that, by 2012, the rate of severe black lung had reached 3.2 percent of workers in the Central Appalachian coalfields of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. That’s a nearly tenfold increase over the disease prevalence 15 years earlier — a shocking statistic. In a brief report published in the September 15 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, NIOSH researchers said, “Each of these cases is a tragedy and represents a failure among all those responsible for preventing this severe disease.”

Black lung is caused by inhaling coal dust. The accumulation of dust particles in the lungs makes it hard to breathe. As the disease progresses, victims develop a cough or shortness of breath.

“Living with black lung is thinking about every breath you take,” former miner Robert Bailey Jr. told a congressional committee earlier this year.

And from MintPress News, another occupational hazard:

EPA Finally Updating Pesticide-Use Guidelines For Farm Workers

  • Advocates say a draft of the updated Worker Protection Standard is imperfect, but still offers greater protections to laborers in one of the country’s most hazardous industries

U.S. regulators are moving into the final stages of a major update to guidelines on the use of pesticides by agricultural workers, changes that labor advocates have been urging for more than a decade.

Indeed, it’s been almost a quarter-century since the Environmental Protection Agency updated the guidelines, known as the Worker Protection Standard. These rules not only have a direct impact on the health and well-being of the country’s estimated two million farmworkers but also on their families and communities. Pesticides and related residues, which can easily be brought home on clothing, are a key example of the broader impact of agricultural regulations and guidelines.

When the EPA released a draft of its update to the Worker Protection Standard in February, the agency’s administrator Gina McCarthy lauded it as a “milestone” for farmworkers. She also noted that protecting agricultural laborers from pesticide exposure “is at the core of EPA’s work to ensure environmental justice.”

After the jump, an Eurocratic GMO supporter’s job eliminated, warm waters melting Antarctic icecap, a bag ban not in the bag, Australian environmental policy diminished, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now! and hot waste bagged up with no permanent place to go, decades of work ahead and little cause for hope, hot water woes and complications tunneling in, and a hot head at the moment of crisis, public opposition ignored, a new nuclear plant gets an operational deadline, and an aging plant’s operator asks a four-decade operating extension, and a costly retirement plan for two hundred reactors. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Mali, medicine, pleas, and food


CNN covers the latest American imported case:

Nebraska hospital prepares for new Ebola patient

A surgeon who’s a Sierra Leone national and a legal permanent resident of the United States will be transported from Sierra Leone to the Nebraska Medical Center for treatment for Ebola, a government official familiar with the situation said.

The doctor is expected to arrive this weekend, most likely Saturday, the official said.

The official said it’s not known whether the doctor was working in an Ebola treatment unit or some other type of hospital. The surgeon is married to a U.S. citizen and has children, the official said.

From the Guardian, a legacy of sorts:

Texas Ebola victim’s fiancee to write memoir after signing book deal

  • Louise Troh will have book set for release in April about her relationship with Thomas Eric Duncan, who flew to Dallas from Liberia to marry her

The fiancee of the Liberian man who died of Ebola in Dallas last month has landed a book deal to write her memoir for a publishing company affiliated with movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, the company said on Thursday.

Louise Troh, 54, will have a book planned for release in April by Weinstein Books about her relationship with Thomas Eric Duncan, who flew from Liberia to Dallas in September to marry her.

Duncan became ill shortly after arriving and died on 8 October. He is the only person to have died from Ebola in the US.

On to Mali, where the toll has reached four, via Reuters:

Ebola death toll in Mali growing

Program notes:

World Health Organization officials say there are now four confirmed and probable Ebola deaths in Mali. Julie Noce reports.

More from StarAfrica:

Ebola: 22 UN peacekeepers in isolation at a clinic in Bamako

Twenty-two peacekeepers who may have had contact with two people who recently died of the Ebola virus, remained held in quarantine at a clinic in Bamako on Wednesday, according to several sources and the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

About 20 peacekeepers had been admitted over injuries at Pasteur clinic in Bamako where they were staying, at the same time with a 66 year old Guinean man who died of Ebola disease in October.

The Guinean, Sekou Goita, went to the clinic for kidney problems and during his treatment, he was tested positive of the Ebola virus but the officials at the clinic did not notify the Malian authorities.

The body of the dead man passed through a mosque in the capital before being repatriated to Guinea by ambulance. The nurse who took care of him died last Tuesday bringing to three the number of Ebola victims who have so far died in Mali.

Measures in Mali, via Reuters:

Mali toughens anti-Ebola checks at borders, Liberia signals progress

Mali announced tougher health checks at border crossings after registering its second Ebola outbreak, while Liberia on Thursday signalled progress in neutralising the virus by saying it would not renew a state of emergency.

The world’s worst ever epidemic of the haemorrhagic fever has infected more than 14,000 people and killed at least 5,160 since it erupted in March in West Africa, a region dogged by poverty and poor health care. It has ravaged Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and spurred a global watch for its spread.

In Mali, which shares an 800-km (500-mile) border with Guinea, a nurse died of Ebola on Tuesday, and on Thursday a doctor at the same clinic was also revealed to be infected. More than 90 people had already been quarantined in the capital Bamako after the nurse’s death, just as a group exposed to Mali’s first case completed their required 21 days of isolation.

Returnees quarantined, via United Press International:

90 U.S. troops returning from Liberia monitored for Ebola

Ninety U.S. troops will undergo 21 days of Ebola monitoring when they arrive Thursday in Virginia from a deployment to Liberia, U.S. officials said

Ninety U.S. troops will undergo 21 days of Ebola monitoring when they arrive Thursday in Virginia from a deployment to Liberia, U.S. officials said.

The troops were scheduled to arrive at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, and though they are showing no signs of the deadly virus, they’ll be in quarantine for three weeks, Read Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said.

A secluded area of the base called the Langley Transit Center was set up to house troops under quarantine.

Another hoax, via the Japan News:

Saitama man arrested over Ebola claim

Police in Saitama Prefecture arrested a man on Thursday for allegedly obstructing the work of a health care center after he claimed he was sick and may have recently visited Liberia, the center of an Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

The man, a 24-year-old resident in Moriyama in the prefecture, denied the charges, saying a friend used his mobile phone to make the claim.

From Voice of America, a media campaign:

Ebola Online Training

Program notes:

Since the beginning of the West Africa Ebola outbreak, health officials worldwide have sought to inform the general public about the virus that has killed some 5,000 people. Digital technology and the internet, when available, make this effort much easier. Doctors without Borders on Tuesday launched an online training program for its staff and others interested in fighting Ebola. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

IRIN reports a deficiency:

Ebola: Diagnostic capabilities need boosting

Critical gaps in “behind-the-scenes” infrastructure are hampering Ebola response times and containment efforts in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, aid agencies and health workers say.

In addition to the obvious need for more beds, medical equipment, and qualified doctors, nurses and lab technicians, they say the ability to quickly and accurately confirm or deny suspected Ebola cases is vital to getting this outbreak under control.

“The country really needs to ramp up its access to diagnostic capabilities,” said Alan Kemp, head of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, which is running a mobile laboratory at the Lakka Ebola Treatment Centre in Freetown. “And that’s not just for Sierra Leone, but for the whole West Africa region.”

From the Guardian, finally:

Ebola: experimental drug trials to go ahead in west Africa

  • Médecins Sans Frontières to start three trials in treatment centres run by volunteers in west Africa

Three trials of experimental Ebola drugs will start next month at treatment centres run by the volunteer doctors of Médecins Sans Frontières in west Africa.

The trials are unprecedented because they are being run during an epidemic and the drugs have not been through the conventional process of clinical trials in animals and healthy humans before being given to people who are sick. Also, drugs will not be withheld from a control group.

The trials have been set up with extraordinary speed in the hope that the drugs will cut the 70% death rate from the disease in west Africa. More than 5,000 people have died since the outbreak began in December.

More from the Japan Times:

Ebola treatment trial to use Japanese drug favipiravir

International medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders said Thursday that one of three clinical trials it will host in West Africa next month for treating Ebola patients will use an antiflu drug developed by a Japanese company.

Avigan, developed by a Fujifilm Holdings Corp. unit and known for its generic name favipiravir, will be used in a trial to be held in Gueckedou, southern Guinea, by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research. The trial will cover some 200 patients.

The other two trials will involve convalescent whole blood and plasma therapy in Guinea and an antiviral drug developed by a U.S. company in another location.

From the Associated Press, allocation:

USAID urges emergency funds for Ebola hot spots

A U.S. official estimates there are 3,000 active cases of Ebola in West Africa, many in small clusters dotted throughout the countryside that require a more rapid and flexible response.

“This is a fast-moving and adaptable viral epidemic. We need to be fast-moving and adaptable,” Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday.

Shah spoke as Congress considers the Obama administration’s request for $6.2 billion in emergency aid to fight Ebola in West Africa and shore up U.S. preparedness.

On to Sierra Leone, first with Britain’s Channel 4 News:

How British aid is helping Sierra Leone’s Ebola struggle

Program notes:

The number of Ebola cases is still rising – up by 200 since Friday – and it’s spreading fastest in Sierra Leone. Alex Thomson looks at the British aid efforts in Freetown.

The latest on an ongoing source of infection from StarAfrica:

Sierra Leone’s Ebola response officials promise safer burial methods

Officials at the National Ebola Response Center (NERC) in Sierra Leone have promised to ensure safe and dignified burial for victims as the country seeks yet to revise its strategy on the fight against the epidemic.

According to a recent UN report, while new cases were reducing in neighboring Liberia; until now the hardest hit by the West African Ebola epidemic, cases were increasing in Sierra Leone and Guinea.

For Sierra Leone, the situation has been blamed particularly on unsafe burials. People are reported to be defying advice by health officials against attending to dead bodies of their loved ones. But this has also been blamed for the attitude towards burial teams who have been accused of not only failing to respond on time, but also often do not dispose off bodies in manners acceptable to the public.

From the Washington Post, compounding tragedy:

As Ebola takes lives in Liberia, it leaves hunger in its wake

The Ebola virus, which has killed more than 2,830 Liberians and collapsed the country’s health-care system, is also attacking Liberia’s food supply, bringing intermittent hunger to a wide swath of this country even as its 4.1 million people try to survive the epidemic.

The typical family income, already among the lowest in the world, has declined as the epidemic raged in recent months, shutting workplaces and killing breadwinners. Closed borders with Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast have sharply reduced trade. Markets in villages and towns across the country have been shut down to limit large gatherings, which can abet transmission of the virus.

The planting and harvesting seasons were disrupted when Ebola hit the farm belt in June.

“We need assistance. We need food here in Foya,” said Joseph Gbellie, commissioner for this rural, largely agricultural district in Liberia’s northwest. “If we don’t get help, it’ll be serious, I tell you.”

On to Liberia with BBC News:

Ebola outbreak: Liberia president lifts state of emergency

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has lifted the state of emergency imposed to control an Ebola outbreak that has ravaged the country.

She said the move did not mean “the fight is over”, although numbers of new infections were no longer increasing.

In nationwide address, President Johnson Sirleaf said that night curfews would be reduced and weekly markets could take place across Liberia. She added that preparations were being made for the re-opening of schools.

StarAfrica adds a qualification:

Liberian leader relaxes curfew hours to midnight

Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has relaxed the curfew which previously ran from 9pm to 6am, to now run from 12 midnight to 6am.

In a nationwide address on radio and television Thursday, the Liberian leader however made it clear that residents living in what is considered “Ebola hotspots” will still have to abide by the 9pm to 6am curfew.

The Chief Executive said the adjustment in the curfew has been prompted by progress being made in the fight against Ebola, with recent reports of reduction in cases.

President Sirleaf however cautioned Liberians to note that the adjustment in the curfew does not mean that the fight against the virus has ended.

Finally, from the New York Times, changing tactics:

Health Officials Reassess Strategy to Combat Ebola in Liberia

As the rate of new Ebola infections in Liberia has slowed, American and Liberian officials are debating whether to build all 17 planned Ebola treatment centers in the country or to shift money from the Obama administration that was planned for the centers into other programs to combat future outbreaks.

The United States announced Monday that it had completed the first of the 100-bed centers, some 40 miles outside Monrovia, in Tubmanburg, and turned over its operation to the International Organization for Migration, which will staff and run the center.

Two other treatment units, in Sinje, to the north of Monrovia, and Buchanan, to the south, will be completed by the end of November, American military officials said. Seven additional treatment units across the country are in various stages of construction.

A 25-bed hospital recently opened outside Monrovia, and American and Liberian military officials are clearing the land for two more units. If all of them go ahead as planned, that would bring the total units built by the American and Liberian militaries working together on the project to 13, or four short of the units promised by President Obama on Sept. 16.